A Look at Graffiti’s Evolution and Progression 2011 in the Artists own words. Part 1
So, I was putting together a post and commentary about 2011, and where graffiti is headed. There are some general observations, I have seen start to see take place. You can say this whole Blog is based on some of these observations, and ideas. I first planned to write a commentary on my own personal thoughts involving the current state of graffiti, and my perspective of Art Basel. Being able to have experienced the event, and see the work in the streets, as well as in the galleries. I was definitely surprised the direction that many artists were headed, it is obviously a subject valuable of attention. I decided, it would be better to ask the artists themselves. I knew, if I could at least ask them one question, I could hopefully get a pulse on what their impression is, on our current evolution and progression. So, below is the question i asked them, along with their responses. I will hopefully be doing a second part on this, or expand on it in a follow up post. The reason being; there are many other artists who are not included, which wanted to reply but weren’t able to finish their answers in time.
Here was the Question that i asked.
Question: Coming back from Art Basel Primary Flight 2010 i was surprised firstly about the turnout of so many talented artists in one place, Secondly the direction it seemed many artists where taking. I noticed a very Conceptual and Abstract direction in many writers gallery and wall work. I was very impressed. My question is in this Post-graffiti age as some like to label it, where do you see the art form progressing and Why? Second part to that question is how has your personal work evolved in this current state of post-graffiti if it has effected it at all.
First of all we think the term Post Graffiti sounds like the graffiti as we know it, which was based mainly on the art of stylizing letters, is completely out of the picture or even dead. Yet if you look close there is a lot street bombing and train writing going on all around the world like back in the days. Anyway, in our eyes graffiti keeps just evolving like it has in the past. Having new talents from different parts of the planet , the internet and better work tools helps our movement grow faster and it keeps bringing original styles to the surface. And yes graffiti has fused with other ” art forms” but it still stands strong on its own and always will be called graffiti. It is one of the most talked about art forms right about now. I mean we still use the spray can, right?
In our case the main reason why we changed our graffiti style is simply that we got tired of doing the same concept of walls with names that don’t say anything but the names and we wanted our style to stand out of the massive graffiti crowd and have a meaning. We chose to paint with only white, black and red and concentrated more on characters and so created our own signature style. Don’t get us wrong we still love to do tags, throw ups and burners but we needed more to it. Reinventing yourself is a way to stay motivated. You get the urge to perfect that new style you adapted.
Many of our colleagues have taken the same approach and it might have to do with maturing over the years. Like us, many have been writing graffiti more than twenty years and feel it is time for a change and give the scene something new they can call their own. At the end of the day all the generations after the golden age of the New York subway graffiti era just helped this movement grow but couldn’t call it their own like the 70’s pioneers. That aspect has already started to change in the last few years and our generation is finally getting their own identity. There are more surprising changes/ progressions coming with the way the things are going.
First, I’d like to say that I don’t like the term post-graffiti, or post-graffiti age. I think that it is important at a time when there are many influences from other art forms: painting, sculpture, photo, design, etc, as well as the influence of media on graffiti, and vice-versa, in a cyclical fashion so that media and advertising informs graffiti, graffiti informs these things, they are adopted into media outlets (television, print campaigns, etc) and in turn reshape graffiti as a response to them, and so on and so on…it’s important to call graffiti what it is: graffiti.
If it’s illegal and it’s main focus is the letterform(s), it’s graffiti. Calling it post-graffiti takes away from the potency that graffiti has as an illegal art form. We shouldn’t feel the need to re-describe what we do in light of aesthetic changes. What is important is the urgency and power that graffiti has, regardless of the image quality. I think that is the real power of graffiti and what distinguishes it from other art forms; this, and that it is letter-based.
I think the progression of graffiti is interesting to watch. The speed at which ideas are built upon is incredible. Style choices / style homages are the normal; regionalism is less prevalent. That’s exciting to see, and also begs the question: Where do style and references come from, and is it important to ‘cite’ primary sources? To what extent does the ‘citing’ of secondary, tertiary, quaternary sources actually lead to development of new styles? Are these in fact new styles, or a sort of bastard style hybrid in which the style lineage(s) are near impossible to sight directly? Perhaps this is what is referred to as ‘post-graffiti’. Perhaps this a question to be sorted out by the graffiti historians-to-be! Half kidding, I think the recognition of graffiti as a legitimate art form will in fact lead to it’s inclusion within modern art history rhetoric.
As to my own work: it’s an exciting time to be a graffiti artist…I think it always has been though! What we do is dope, it’s ours, it’s learned on the train tracks, in the train yards and on the streets of our cities. It’s ours for the keeping! There are so many dope and inspiring writers out there. In fact, I think with the speed and progression of graffiti in this day and age, there has been a marked interest and return to “simpler”, more traditional letter forms and styles. New techniques get applied to old formats: behold, the age of the visual remix! In my own eyes, I find myself drawn more and more toward “older”, more traditional styles as I continue to write. I think the current aesthetic of graffiti embodies both a “no-holds-barred” approach with respect to color/size/inclusion of non-graffiti references, as well as a push to keep things simple: a shape-based approach to letter-making. These two things can be opposing and complementary at times, and it’s interesting to see these concepts in others work, and to feel the push and pull of each in my own. In the end, I gravitate towards the “reserved/less-is-more/dont-lay-all-your-cards-out-on-the-table” side of things.
Breathing out the concrete jungle, breathing in the woods.
I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted…to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms.
Henry David Thoreau.
3. To put to rout all that was not life.
“I spent ages doing graffiti, painting trains in yards and covering with color every surface, putting my name everywhere. Then I got to a stage where that approach to me looked like leading to an exaggerate proximity with advertisement. But the world was flooded by it. It was a nonsense for me to keep on adding chaos to chaos”.
The chaos of the concrete jungle.
Graffiti has been and is an essential element on which the artist’s attitude lays its foundations. It’s something that has been Moneyless’ life companion since he was 13 and it still is. But leaving behind the burden of fat caps and throw ups, the artist started to sublimate his graffiti, a process made by conceptual subtraction and material removal, that led him literally to strip the flesh from his body of writing. Even if he was still tagging Moneyless, yet developing a geometrical style, he felt like the tag lost its interest and it was pointless for him to push a name. What he’d been doing for years was to him like running into a dead end: “I wanted to push concepts through my work, something that could go beyond”.
“To me the traditional rules of graffiti started to be a constriction and I felt I didn’t wanted anymore to feel linked to a culture that gave its best in the Eighties and Nineties”. So Moneyless’ solution has been refusing those norms, trimming what was becoming dead wood to him, to allow something new to be born. “Letters were too strict a bond with something I had enough of, especially in this period invaded by logos. I felt the need to take distance from the letter”. That process started was irreversible. Letters had to fade away, becoming just shapes first. And disappear then.
2. And reduce it to the lowest terms
Abandoning lettering was the first step of Moneyless’ artistic sublimation, a matter of conceptual subtraction: his artistic research relieved by the weight of a fixed form made his style flow into pure geometry, defined by Johannes Kepler “the archetype of the beauty of the world.”
So came the material removal: “When I was still working with lettering, I used rollers to paint and my strokes were getting so thin. To be able to do them even thinner I shifted to brushes and I started to paint hair-like outlines”. And then the artist realized what was already apparent: his outlines had become threads.
Threads, lines, strokes. And colors. Acting both as mirrors and windows open on the inside. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson says in his Essays, “If the thought is shape, then the feeling is color. It twirls the world’s skeleton with space, variety and splendor.”
“The color that used to create space inside my geometries, now generates their background, it’s outside now. On canvas it still acts as a projection of my graphic imaginary and it’s often inspired by some of the weirdest national flags and their symmetries. But in the open space the color survives in the thread only, marking the boundaries of my pure shapes, not filling them anymore”.
Moneyless had shape and colors then, but to get a skeleton to twirl with them he needed something else. A new dimension, the third.
Reduced and streamlined, his artwork still had matter cemented on a surface. But then came the humble wool thread to broaden the boundaries of the wall. Cheap but effective, it hit even harder thanks to its simplicity. Simple as this wool thread, Moneyless artworks started to reel off, breathing and taking shape in the third dimension, with all the decaying flesh stripped away. The flat space was finally able to breathe through the threads.
Taking shape doesn’t mean that the two dimensions of a wall are something the artist wants to leave behind: “Occupying a mural surface is one of the things that satisfies me more. It’s there, abandoned and no one is reclaiming it. Before I used to follow the bombing philosophy of choosing the most visible places, to be as visible as possible. Now I’m an antibomber: I’m looking for places, hard to find, hard to be seen”. In the middle of nowhere. And his artistic interventions make this nowhere an elsewhere and an everywhere as doing something unique acts as an exemplum, a metonymy, a paradoxical powerful figure of speech to portray the essential part to represent the whole.
An inner/outer whole that as to be sought in the open air, breathing out the poisoning concrete jungle and breathing in leaves, soil, dew and bark.
Looking for that wall now is something that takes Moneyless more time than the act of painting itself. Finding the right place, a place that whispers in his ear is essential to him, as his art is deeply rooted in the environment that nourishes his thoughts. Finding the right place is not just about the act of finding. But is about the one of looking for it and pushing his way to a path sometimes covered in brambles and mud.
Whether the mud gets to the artist’s knees and the brambles grow stronger, he’s into an homeward journey to the essential and the bare, where civilization is annihilated by the unbridled Nature.
A Nature that knocks you down with its sublime beauty and with the very same beauty arouses you. As water that can save you from thirst or drowning you down.
Woodland bites back the soil, the concrete stolen her. Nature that takes over again what has always been hers.
1. Into the woods
What can be seen on the white walls of a gallery is a compendium of lines and colors of Moneyless’ outdoors interventions, in abandoned spaces, “where the human trace is not visible anymore” and in the wild, “the only environment where I feel free, where I can find peace of mind”. Because “the mind loves his old home, as water to our thirst, so is the rock, the ground to our eyes and hands and feet” as Emerson writes in his Essays.
While the mind attempts to rejoin its old home, through his research Moneyless tries to discover and reach a higher state of clarity and awareness, allowing himself to make “a conscious experience at once of the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives” – says the co-founder of the British Psychological Society Max Velmans.
This research leads him to experience himself , his life and the world in a double way power: he generates the artwork in Nature and its creation, fed by the natural element, regenerates him.
After this process he simply lets things go and his artworks abandoned in space, as time capsules, can be discovered and experienced by whoever, an insect or an old man walking in the wood or in an abandoned place. It’s beyond philanthropy, it’s philEarthopy. A love for the planet Earth as a way to rebuild a dialogue through the silent language of shapes and colors, a way to transcend our material existence, losing the self to restore the bond with nature.
Speaking the language of nature doesn’t need letters anymore, a wool thread is enough. And together with it the dregs of society, its remains, its leftovers are the once-dead, now- living material molding Moneyless’ artwork. This flows out creatively, finds a shape and then loses it again through Nature’s action. As Anaxagora said “Nothing comes into being nor perishes, but is rather compounded or dissolved from things that are. So we would be right to call coming into being composition and perishing dissolution.”
A transition from the solid to the aeriform, the same that affects Moneyless’ floating and volatile graffiti.
In this coming into being and dissolution, in this alluring tension to reach the marrow of life Moneyless’ floating graffiti are the result of a transition from the solid to the aeriform. Here resides the fascination of Moneyless’ research and his artistic wandering/wondering back into the woods. A process to cleanse and reach purity. An attempt to distillate the essence of our ephemeral existence.
2011 is all about where this art has evolved, weather it is evolving and if it still can! To me it has to go straight back to linguistics and semiotics, then the time should be right to strip down and minimize further. Only the letter and the letters mechanics and futurism’s have the weight to re claim this art form’s infra structure. I think that Iconism has played itself out over the last decade and the culture desperately needs it’s science back. Its a year to investigate ourselves, understand & discover where the pure power lie’s in what we’re creating out there…
Post- Graffiti. I am not sure if we should call it post graffiti or is just a direction (some or as you say many) graffiti artists are taking it? Everything changes. Everything has to change and evolve. Though many writers tend to keep working in a more ‘classic’ so called oldschool style, while others move further and further away from that. I think abstraction is just a next step for many to take.
When i talk about this, I actually feel (and know) we, as Graphic Surgery, are not actually part of this post-graffiti movement. We already come from a different direction. As Graphic Surgery we never were typical graffiti writers. We are simply abstract painters. It seems more like many (post) graffiti writers move closer towards an abstract way of working. Probably as i said before, a logical step, cause things evolve. Though who knows, even they will eventually even drop the idea of holding on to type or letters?
Erris, Graphic Surgery
Graffiti is an art form built on fast progression. If you put it in the context that 35 years ago people were still doing bubble letters and now people are creating elaborate pieces – we are still expanding on that simple idea. Letters are ripe for reinvention. The possibilities are endless for abstracting and fragmenting letter-forms. There are probably a lot of reasons for this but the one that sticks out to me especially being a NY graffiti writer is that graff has become a world wide art form and every region and country brings some of there own style into the mix. Even though you can still see the influence of NY graff all over the world there is something that other places and other people’s experience bring to the table that makes a unique individual statement and in turn pushes styles forward.
For me, I am somewhat of a purist and still truly enjoy a traditional NY style. That said, I do feel that creating my own unique style is paramount. And I, like many others feel that I have yet to do my best piece so to that I am constantly challenging myself to create new letter forms and connections that are part of my individual style while still part of the lineage of NY style. I also work primarily in collage which is not graffiti by any means but I do employ many aesthetics from graffiti and incorporate them in my collage work. Movement, colors, layering and of course letters all inform my studio work. I really try to push these ideas into new places and evolve my experience into something completely new.
As for Post Graffiti, isms, izmz etc. and rah rah, ultimately there can not be much more that can be said than post urban or post graff unless there is a unified mission or collective that has a clear agenda with aesthetic and practice. There is one artist who was a one man movement and that was Kurt Schwitters and that was called Merz. Suffice it to say we have all considered terminology that would identify a new direction ie Panzerism which had several practitioners under Rammellzee’s lead.
Clearly “Street Art’ is a common and soft way to say urban art or graffiti, all in the same vain and extremely mental when trying to corral a common interest or goal. Subway graff was clear in its intent and collective so it was easy to call it tagging, bombing, writing all verb derivatives that speak to an action rather than a theory.
I believe I once called it all Post Century Art but I was referring to the new intersects that my work was pointing too with the Avante Garde and their works of the earlier century. We are all now in retrospect in an attempt to push the work further, either we are painting in traditional means of graff or looking to history to bridge us or validate us.
This has a lot of what I discuss in lectures, as to how this genre can in some ways be identifiable by certain collectives, styles, action and off shoots, there is now one way about it which is exciting yet there is no new concrete movement other than traditional painting to thread it as a complete idea that is innovative or sustained. Not yet at least.
Huge questions, could literally write a book about it. Will try to keep it concise and not bore people. I don’t like how I sound in writing, doesn’t sound like me in real life at all.
I’m conflicted about labels, I try to avoid them. On the other hand, I do see the wisdom of labeling yourself before someone else does it for you. In this noisy over saturated era it would be useful to have a flag, a rallying point for difference (is that your intention for this site? I would support that idea.)
The culture has progressed as all cultures do. We have large proportions of traditional and retro, we have a diluted mainstream/commercial side …it’s natural that an avante garde should also be a part of it (or maybe “apart from it” is more accurate).
I’m not sure if the proportions are the same as other movements (as I write, I decide I like the idea that the proportions are always the same. I have zero proof to back this idea up. I will say proportions of “creative energy” rather than numbers of people so it’s vague enough to maybe be true).
It’s perhaps the case that the normality of violence and destruction of disapproved art – as the Nazis did, and this should be said more often – mean that conformism is massively over-represented. Or maybe the minority simply fight harder to compensate.
This fear and hatred of difference or the unknown has led much of the work to become inbred (the I’s are too close together).
Democratization of media – the internet – has only led to international work becoming more globalized, homogenate. Strongly defined regional styles / personality are rare. Marketing has made many want to be someone else rather than themselves, as it does.
It is not the first movement to proclaim it is not art, is apart from art, or to believe it does things better. Like so many of us, I once used to believe religiously in the idea that we were separate; the rest of it was “gay”, for art students, lacked balls.
“Graffiti writing is not art”. Of course this is complete crap. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Whether it is good art or not is the relevant question. Or whether it can be. Can it go up against history?
In some ways I believe it does do things better. It’s very clear to me that there are huge regions of it still to explore. Despite it’s size, it is still a young movement, I can see so many areas it can grow into.
To me, the minute you start painting, you are a painter. You can’t escape it. You can be in denial about it or refuse to compare or relate it to everything else but the only way you can even try to get good is to be as open to everything as possible. I think.
“Graffiti writing is just for other graffiti writers”. Sure, make work for your peers to appreciate, they understand it better than anyone else does. But this idea that the foundations were only about that is just wrong. Examples … Skeme is a poster child for that idea because of the staged scene in Style Wars. However Skeme was a protegy of Dez and Dez always did simple letters specifically so non-writers could also hear him call out his name. Lee … were those whole cars really only for other writers? I don’t think so.
Furthermore, even if it was only about that, who is to say that now is not the time for it to change? Personally I’m interested in what writers think about my work, but I’m also interested in what everything else thinks about it too, how it communicates, what it can do.
It was a manifesto scripted by children. Flawed genius, I think, or at least incomplete. More of us need to question the tenets.
To use theft to level the social / financial playing fields, to use art as a rite of passage, and the efficiency of the guerilla tactics developed … those ideas are amazing. The illegality, danger and difficulty of the media as a filter for the truly motivated – to me that’s a better mechanism that any art school could employ.
It falls down on content and progression.
Maybe an avante garde with a strong collective voice could insert that, or maybe kids today just think they know it all and can’t hear it.
Abstraction and graphics are well-trodden paths. I like both but the more interesting direction is conceptual for me.
We are at war and should not take our ability to take and control space lightly.
I believe in a Renaissance.
Second part to that question is how has your personal work evolved in this current state of post-graffiti if it has effected it at all.
I’m eternally grateful for the original inspiration from the pioneers in NY back in the 80’s.
I’m not that aware of new developments, certainly not a state of post-graffiti! I can’t say that they have affected my work at all. I’m interested in what the art might be, not what it is at a given time.
I started when I was 14 and now I’m 40. I’m making 40 year old’s art, not revisiting my youth. No midlife crisis here.
It would take way too long to go through all of my development and explorations. I’ll try to focus on some of the main parts and the work I’m interested in at the moment.
Like I said, it’s conceptual work that really interests me, I’ve been thinking of everything in terms of meaning for a long time now. The things that I’m trying to get to are really difficult ideas, I think the paintings probably do a better job of explaining themselves than I can but I’ll try to explain a bit of how they came about.
I did the first of my organic pieces in 1998. I had been drawing them for a long time before but that was the first one I painted. It was inspired by the John Carpenter film “The Thing”. It wasn’t so much the horror aspect of it as the idea that it could take any form and no one knew what it was going to look like next. The scene where they are sitting in the room with the alien and Kurt Russell is sticking a hot needle in the blood samples … I just related all of that to art and what I thought it should be doing.
(FAQ – I don’t think of myself as a Surrealist and I was never influenced by Giger or Dali. Nature and the imagination belong to no man)
Conflict is always a part of it for me, I think that must be one of my key subjects. Art is always in a fight I think.
I had already been painting in a very organic way for years – most of the walls were freestyles, no drawings, just making it up as I went along, so it also felt natural to paint something that looked organic too. I had never seen anyone paint a piece like that so it was all unknown, I had no idea if I could do it or if it was going to be any good or not.
It got bitten but they just took the look and made it back into a style again, they didn’t get the ideas behind it.
Another part of it was this idea I was thinking about for a long time, this idea of a wildstyle where the connections are meanings and concepts rather than physical things.
It opened a number of doors for me. It fucks with the relationship between characters and letters – I like to say a letter is a character – and gave me a framework to put concepts, ideas and narratives into.
I’m really into playing with signs and symbols, cooking up meanings. I’m only just starting to see how far I can take it, I have some really crazy new ideas planned out for this year.
My friend Lovepusher put it far more neatly than I can. He said I found a way to bring the world into a piece.
What else? I killed the name.
I reached a point where I wanted to really confront some of the sacrosanct areas of graffiti writing. The name is the one thing that writers really won’t fuck with. So I decided to kill my own name. It would no longer be the subject of the paintings.
I still wanted to make letter paintings though. I think you can move so far away that it stops being related and becomes another kind of art. The letter anchors it. I wanted to make the letter the star, the posing nude, the actor, not just another dancer in a chorus line.
There is a lot of other art with words in, but there is something really cool and interesting to me about the idea of just painting a letter on it’s own. I did it back in the 80’s, inspired by Dondi, but those things were really monograms so it was still the name, still the known.
I got really into the idea of freeing the letter, emancipating the letter. When they are isolated like that, in the logic of it they become the individual, the outsider. The word can be the herd, it’s the collective entity.
I came up with two new structures to replace the name. The first were my Trinities, three forms of the same letter based on religious triptychs (graffiti being a kind of religion of the self, the ego, was one of the early ideas). Transformation is another key theme.
The second was Password pieces – random letters and characters. I’ve experimented with using online password generators to decide what letters to paint. Passwords are keys to open things and they are simultaneously ciphers, mysteries.
In terms of technique, I’ve been all the way out to nearly pure conceptual stuff with no style or craft at all. People really seemed to hate that I did that, I was surprised how angry they got about it. I also tried just basing it on drawings, taught myself to silkscreen. Personally I really liked them but there are things you can do with a wall and a spray can … you can just be really massive or epic. I had to come back to it.
I had a pretty long period of really minimalist work with as much decoration and color taken out as possible, really stark naked black and white things with nothing in without a purpose. Just lumps of meaning really. Really making everything justify itself, making it really difficult. Using technique and detail symbolically too. I laughingly call that my Black Period to myself.
Now I’m working my way back to a richer surface, bringing color back into it. The light and shadow comes from Caravaggio, when it’s really intense like that the proper name is tenebrism. For some reason I find using ancient Renaissance techniques like chiaroscuro really fuck-off and cool.
I’m not at all interested in photo realism, I’m totally bored by copies of photographs. No point in it.
Using realistic techniques to paint things that don’t exist in the world – using it to illustrate what goes on in the imagination – that’s great though. It’s really important to me and I know that people really connect with it. I’ve really pushed the intricate detail over the last year too and that’s another element that really works in the world.
Humor seems to be creeping back into it, it was quite serious looking for a while. Sign of the times I think.
I’ve been bringing different ways of seeing into it too – I got obsessed with X-rays and microscope pictures, electron microscopes. Things that reveal truths inside, worlds inside worlds as a metaphor for subculture and individuality. Things that you rarely see paintings of because they are bastard hard to do basically. I cracked that one a while back, will be developing it more this year.
I’m a little less shy about it than I used to be, I’ve really made an effort with that in the last year. I used to turn down media all the time, just really hated doing it, or I’d procrastinate and stress about it for so long they’d give up on me. I have a longer list of books I was supposed to be in than the ones I managed to do. But I’m pretty reliable with that these days.
It’s 4am and I have no idea if this makes sense or not. I’ll stop there. Thanks to Graffuturism for the space and thanks to you for reading if you got this far.